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Child support cases in Texas IV-D courts: What to know before you go

In Texas, the Office of the Attorney General oversees the payment of child support. It is likely that if you already have a child support order in place, you are mandated to send those payments through the Office of the Attorney General. If you do not pay your child support obligation in full or on time it is likely that either the Attorney General or your child’s other parent has asked for a court date to let the judge speak to you regarding those missed payment.

In the event that your child receives assistance from the government- whether it be Medicaid, Food Stamps, SNAP, etc.- the Office of the Attorney General automatically becomes involved in your child support case. If they become aware that you are not yet ordered to pay child support and your child is on one of these programs it is likely that a lawsuit will be filed to bring you to IV-D court in order to establish a child support obligation.

What happens if you were told by the other parent that you wouldn’t have to pay child support?

You may be in a situation where your child’s other parent had promised you that you would not have to pay child support. You may have an agreement in place where you could provide assistance when you are able. Or your child may be with you so much that it would not make sense to have you or the other parent pay support.

However, even if the other parent made this promise to you, if that parent receives any of the government subsidized assistance that we discussed previously today then the Office of the Attorney General will file a lawsuit seeking to establish a child support obligation for you. Basically, you are being asked to repay the State of Texas for the assistance provided to your child. While the services may be free for your child, they are not free for the State.

While your first instinct may be to get upset at your child’s other parent for “breaking their promise”, it is important to understand that he or she did not cause your case to happen, necessarily. It is true that he or she can file a child support lawsuit but the likeliest situation is that the State filed the lawsuit to begin to recoup the costs of those social programs that are being taken advantage of.

What people actually work on IV-D court cases?

The Office of the Attorney General’s child support division will work on behalf of the State of Texas. One of the attorney’s with that office will speak for the State in any hearings with the judge. Enforcement of prior child support obligations, the establishment of paternity rights and any other issues to be sorted out in these hearings will involve this attorney.

You can think of the Office of the Attorney General as the watchdog of child support in Texas. They will make sure that child support payments are made on time and in full. If you are responsible for reimbursing your child’s other parent for medical payments this also falls under their purview. Remember that you have an obligation to support your child, no matter how much you are able to see him or her.

What do all these words mean that are contained in the Petition?

A Petition is the initial pleading (filing) in a legal case. This document will establish what issues are sought to be decided by the court, the parties that are involved and the legal justification that the Petitioner has in petitioning the court for relief. The Petitioner is the party that filed the lawsuit. As we discussed earlier, this is likely to be the Office of the Attorney General or your child’s other parent.

You are likely referred to as a respondent in those court papers. The respondent in a court case is the person who is being sued by the Petitioner. It probably feels weird to know that you are being sued by another person. After all, if you had no court orders in place there it likely that you haven’t done anything wrong that has caused you to be in court.

Keep in mind that your attitude determines largely how your case will proceed. If you understand that you are only here to make sure your child is well taken care of then you will likely be less resistant to the idea of paying child support. On the other hand, if you get angry at your child’s other parent for being there then your experience will likely suffer as a result.

A Custodial Parent is the parent (either you or the other parent) who has physical custody of your child for the majority of the time. A Non-Custodial Parent is the parent who has physical custody of your child for a smaller part of the time in comparison to the custodial parent. Most parents who are involved in family law cases in Texas become joint managing conservators. This means that you both will share in the decision-making responsibilities for your child.

What does the timeline look like as far as signing paperwork in the courthouse?

Before your hearing it is likely that the attorney assigned to your case will take you aside and speak to you privately about being able to come to an agreement on an order. This will require a settlement with your child’s other parent as well as with the Office of the Attorney General. If no settlement can be reached, then a hearing will be had in front of the judge.

If you do not believe that you are able to communicate freely with the Office of the Attorney General, or that your child’s other parent is being unreasonable in the things he or she is asking for then you can ask to see the judge before signing anything. Keep in mind that the judge is there to administer these cases and make decisions. He or she is not there to provide you with legal advice. It is permissible to ask the judge questions, but the judge is not there to provide you with advice, other than the possibility of your hiring an attorney to represent you.

It is probable that you will not understand everything that is placed in front of you by the Office of the Attorney General. They will attempt to talk very quickly to you about your case and are not obligated to tell you every detail about the order they are asking you to sign. If you are not clear on something or a concept does not make sense to you, then you should not sign anything. You can ask the judge for a continuance to allow you some time to hire an attorney to be able to advise you on these subjects.

It is not uncommon for a potential client to come into our office and to express frustration with the process prior to their hiring an attorney. The main thing to keep in mind is that just because you don’t completely understand something, that is not a defense for the failure to act in accordance with the order later on. Saying that you didn’t read the whole thing is not a defense either. When in doubt, do not sign anything and seek a continuance.

What is a Suit to Determine Parentage?

If you are served (handed) paperwork by a constable, police officer or a process server and it is entitled as a Suit to Determine Parentage then you are obligated to attend a court hearing. There will be a document that is called a Notice of Hearing that is included with the lawsuit. This document will provide you with the date, time and location of the hearing. Make sure that you attend the hearing. It is likely to be a time early in the morning when you would otherwise be arriving at work. Do what you have to do in order to appear at the hearing.

Missing this court date can cause you significant problems both in the present and in the future. Seeing as how this is going to be a hearing that will establish whether you are or are not the father of a child, you do not want to be incorrectly adjudicated as a father due to your absence in an important hearing. Make no mistake- the judge can pronounce you as the legal father of a child, even if you are not the father, if you do not attend this hearing.

Either if you do or do not believe yourself to be the father of the child in question, you can request that you take a paternity test. The child’s mother may ask for a paternity test, as well. In any event, you will want to get tested just in case prior to signing any legal paperwork establishing parental rights in your name. Remember that there are rights and duties to raising a child, including that of paying child support and medical support. A gut feeling that you are the child’s father is not enough to sign paperwork. You should ask for a paternity test if nobody else has.

Do you need an attorney in order to go to IV-D court?

You do not need an attorney in order to request a paternity test from the court. You will not be offending anyone by asking for a paternity test. You may love the child that you are being asked to appear in court for. You may have acted as his father since birth. However, even if you feel that you absolutely know that you are the father of the child you should still ask for a paternity test.

Before your hearing you can speak to the Office of the Attorney General lawyer to explain to them the situation as you see it. This way they will be prepared for any request that you make in front of the judge. Keep in mind that if the Attorney General lawyer does not seem friendly or tries to push your case along without a paternity test you should not go along with them. They are not the judge. In all likelihood a paternity test will be ordered and you will be asked to return to court at a later time to get the results.

What happens if you are determined to not be the father of the child?

If we flash forward to the next court date and the genetic tests come back and say that you are not the biological father of the child, then it is likely that your involvement with the court will be over with. If your name appears on any legal documents (like a birth certificate) then it will need to be removed at a later date. The final order that establishes paternity for the child will specifically exclude you as a father.

If you are wondering what happens if the DNA test comes back and shows you are the father of the child in question, then you should come back to our blog tomorrow where we will answer that question and many more.

Questions about child support or child custody matters? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

The attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan take a great deal of pride in representing the people of our community. Our objective is to offer client-first advocacy in the field of family law. Across southeast Texas we have argued on behalf of clients in family courts.

To learn more about us and to ask questions about your situation please do not hesitate to contact our office. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with our attorneys. These consultations are a great opportunity to sit down in a comfortable and pressure free environment where you can ask questions and receive honest feedback about your circumstances and family. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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